Maria visits UNDP youth projects in Belarus

Maria arrived in Belarus today to visit children living in areas affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and to see for herself the work of a number of UNDP youth-focused projects that her Foundation has helped fund.

As soon as she landed, Sharapova went to the town of Chechersk and visited the hospital’s “Fairy Tale Room” which provides treatment to the children in the form of interactive games and psychotherapeutic sessions. She then visited UNDP’s “Ecology of the Soul” project at the Local Arts Centre and spoke to children involved in raising awareness on environmental issues. The project, funded by the Maria Sharapova Foundation, works with youth to spruce up public spaces, clean springs, make bird feeders and plant bushes. Needless to say, she was a big hit with the children, all of whom wanted to pose next to her and have their photos taken.

“I am so glad to be able to see these inspiring children and the wonderful projects that my Foundation and UNDP have been supporting for the past two years”, said the tennis star. “They are definitely a good example of how local communities can overcome the ‘victim syndrome’, take greater control over their lives and build productive futures for themselves.”

Tomorrow, Sharapova will visit the Gomel Oblast Tennis Centre and will meet with the 2010 winners of a five-year Maria Sharapova Foundation Scholarship for Youth from the Chernobyl-Affected Areas of Belarus. The scholarship aims to assist talented students gain access to high-quality education in the leading universities of the country. The scholarship program was launched in September 2008 as a joint initiative between the Maria Sharapova Foundation and UNDP, where Sharapova serves as a Goodwill Ambassador.

In partnership with UNDP, the Sharapova Foundation supports seven youth-oriented projects in areas of Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine affected by the Chernobyl accident.

Sharapova was born in 1987 in Nyagan, Siberia, after her family fled Gomel in the wake of the Chernobyl accident. After two years in Nyagan, the family moved to the Black Sea town of Sochi, Russia. In 1995 Sharapova left Russia to study tennis in the United States. In 2004 she won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon and was named Women’s Tennis Association player of the year. In 2006 she won the U.S. Open and, in 2008, the Australian Open.